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By The Capistrano Dispatch
In the Sept. 12-24 edition of The Dispatch, the eight candidates for San Juan Capistrano City Council shared which development projects concern them the most and how they would balance responsible development and the need to preserve the city’s historical character.
For our second question, we asked the candidates:
The state is in the midst of an historic drought and water remains a hot topic in San Juan Capistrano. The city adopted a new rate structure this year, replacing its contested system. Do you think the new rates effectively address some of the concerns of the previous system? Do you think the city’s Groundwater Recovery Plant is a viable solution to future water woes? What else can the city do to address the water crisis?
Below are their responses, printed verbatim, in the order their names will appear on the ballot.
Jan Siegel, Community Volunteer
Floods and drought periods have been part of the California landscape for centuries. In the 1850’s the fact was “that whiskey was for drinking and water was for fighting.” Not much has changed.
The new rate structure is fair to the majority of the residents. It is a complicated issue because the City is not in control of the commodity it sells. We are part of a five way split for the same water under the control of the Metropolitan Water District. Besides the MWD there are 27 agencies that have a say in the distribution of water before we turn on our taps. Rates not only pay for the water but for the infrastructure that supports it. Our pipes are aging and we need to make sure that we have the money in place to monitor and maintain them.
The Ground Water Recovery Plant is a viable solution because it gives us options. MWD actually pays us for not buying more from them. Desalinization is another option being explored by the City which may in the future be another choice. It is always better to have choices and options rather than relying on one entity to supply our needs.
Derek Reeve, Councilman/Constitutional Attorney
I voted against every rate increase while the council majority again approved illegal tiered water rates amounting to more than 30%. The current water system is too expensive for a city our size.
The GWRP is so expensive that the rate increase will not cover operating expenses. The rates are dependent on an inflated level of production that will never be realized. When less production is acknowledged, there will be higher costs and deficits.
The majority argue that the GWRP production is cheaper than imported water. They purposely fail to include the true cost of labor, debt, supplies, electricity, overhead, grant writing, etc., into the city water operations. Instead of acknowledging basic economic principles, the majority continues to recklessly create deficits through illegal tiered rates.
I sounded the alarm years ago that water is being pumped out of the basin by the city faster than it’s replaced. Recently the golf course which sued the city and the Basin Authority showed this to be true. Due to the majority’s mismanagement, the water aquifer will disappear and be replaced by sea water creating an economic and ecological disaster. Once gone, it’s gone forever.
The city must remove itself from the water business.
Pam Patterson, Constitutional Attorney/Businesswoman
San Juan needs to get out of the water business, but most importantly, we need to vote a new majority into office that makes wise decisions, and represents the interests of its citizens.
The vacuum of leadership amongst the majority on the City Council has contributed greatly to San Juan’s significant water issues. Drought recurs regularly for Southern California—a foreseeable phenomenon.
Instead of a vision, and long term planning, we have:
- over-pumped wells,
- a threatened aquifer,
- evidence of salt water in our water supply,
- the highest water rates in Southern California,
- an enormous debt of at least $43 million,
- and expensive litigation costs (another suit was filed August 28, 2014).
The new water rates do not address the legal questions raised by local taxpayers and they do not promote conservation. They represent a political decision by the city council majority aimed at preserving the status quo until after the election. Their cynical aim is to buy your vote.
The new rates are not reasonably based on the cost of delivering water service. Thus they would appear to violate provisions of the California Constitution (Article XIII-D) and related laws.
John Taylor, Businessman/Councilmember
Our adoption of new water rates began with an in-depth study of all of the costs to bring safe clean drinking water to our residents, including any capital improvements that are essential to keep the system from falling into expensive emergency repairs. We also gathered input from citizens at four community forums and at several City Council meetings. In the end, we chose a rate system that was fair to all of our residents, one that had the least amount of cost and also did not raise sewer rates for the next four years.
Groundwater is an important source of water for our city. The Groundwater Recovery Plant takes this water and makes it pure and safe for us to drink. In the future, we should look to recharging the aquifer with water from storm run-off as well as injection of recycled water into the ground upstream. This will help preserve our groundwater for many years. With water shortages a fact of life in Southern California, the city needs to seriously look at ocean water desalinization as a long-range solution. In addition, we should encourage conservation by utilizing drought tolerant native plants in our yards and public landscaping.
Robert Williams, Architect/Business Owner
Water is a critical issue demanding us to pull together to seek thoughtful solutions which requires proven, unbiased and collaborative leadership.
The previous water billing system was grossly unfair as average residential users were quickly accelerated into a top tier rate. Our new tier system is a step in the right direction but unfortunately coincided with huge increases in water costs to the city. Our solution must be strategic and won’t be solved by simply arguing over tier systems.
Our Ground Water Recovery Plant is visionary. Sometime ago, citizens had the foresight that water costs from outside sources would only increase over the years. Pumping our own water will save us millions in the long run and also embodies the independent spirit of San Juan Capistrano. Having our own water source protects us from main water pipe disasters. Many OC cities without their own ground water plant are now facing expensive consequences which will result in future water hikes to their residents. I believe the city must work to increase the capacity and efficiency of our pumping station while seeking collaborative partners to keep costs to our citizens down.
The key is working together to maximize our return on investment.
Stephanie Frisch, Independent Insurance Broker
The situation with our water supply in California is dire. We are in a severe drought.
It makes sense to take advantage of capturing groundwater before we lose it forever into the ocean which is what the Ground Water Recovery Plant does. Everything seems to increase in price over the years; a resource as valuable as water increases in price too.
Other than our Groundwater Recovery plant, we get our water from the Colorado River and the Bay Area Delta. We are not “first in line” to receive water from these sources, and as water sources deplete, our price to purchase that water grows and our access to it lessens.
The Groundwater Recovery plant isn’t without issues, but I agree with the majority that I have interviewed that it is something we can’t walk away from—a safe reliable source of water.
We may need to look at reducing the amount of water that we get from the GWRP to help maintain the water levels in the aquifer below us. We also need to be looking at alternative sources of water, like desalination and more emphasis should be put on water conservation.
Kerry Ferguson, Businesswoman/Educator
The city council majority has handled water issues recklessly. It’s time for new leadership.
The majority’s 2010 water rate structure was judged illegal. The new water rate structure isn’t much better. In a cynical decision by the council majority to buy votes, conservation is not encouraged. Most water users’ allocations increase 50% before higher rates apply. Not based on costs of delivery, they still appear to violate provisions of the California Constitution (Article XIII-D) and related laws. Rates are still the highest in the area due to extremely high costs of building and operating the Ground Water Recovery Plant (GWRP).
Despite drought, the council majority continued pumping more and more. Recently, San Juan Capistrano was ordered to shut down two wells, hoping to restore water levels. Over-pumping has left vegetation dying in the creek bed and sea water intruding, risking aquifer collapse all together. The golf course has sued.
We must reduce water consumption and the cost of running our GWRP. The council majority refuses to face this, willing to put our aquifer and fiscal security at risk to stay in office. Ultimately, we must develop other sources—desalinization, reclaimed water, MWD water. We can do better! I ask for your vote.
Larry Kramer, Retired Submarine Captain
I was very involved in the development of the current rate structure. It was created based upon reasonable assumptions on the cost of water and anticipated changes. Our city held public hearings and workshops to obtain input from residents. In the end, it is a fair sharing of the costs of providing reliable and safe water to our residents. Use more, pay more.
The Ground Water Recovery Plant is one method of diversifying our source of water and is providing a significant portion of our water—water we do not have to buy from Metropolitan Water District. We are looking at increased use of recycled water and water desalinization as other methods to diversify and increase reliability.
Public education is important. We live in a desert climate and it is necessary to use water efficiently. We will continue to determine if more outdoor watering can be converted to recycled water and to find additional sources of recycled water. We are working collaboratively in the region with other organizations, including San Juan Basin Authority and South Orange County Watershed Management Area to more efficiently manage limited water resources. We will continue to explore every option to conserve and use water wisely.